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December 18, 2012updated Dec 20, 2023

Engraving J.C. Randell

By Chris Boyle

J.C. Randell

The premier Horological engraver in the United states was Professionally educated as a watchmaker at spokane falls Community college in the 1970s before practicing his trade at Various retail stores. Engraving was a personal interest that J.C. Randell taught himself and began practicing as a hobby in the Late 1980s on firearms and custom knives after hours.

he officially received the title “professional engraver” (the equivalent of a european master engraver) from the firearms engravers guild of america in 1994. This happens to be the same year randell contacted Jaeger-LeCoultre by means of an anonymous ad looking for a watch engraver. luck was on his side, and the self-taught artisan was promptly sent to Switzerland to observe how the factory’s in-house craftspeople work, though his unusual lack of education in the specific craft has allowed him to develop his own personal and instantly recognizable style. randell is now Jaeger-lecoultre’s official stateside engraver.

Apart from the classic monograms and initials he styles, randell’s strongpoint definitely lies in two-dimensional renditions of lifelike scenes that find their origins in the art of firearm and knife engraving, which include fine shading and gradual tone change techniques that add to the three-dimensional quality of his work.

The fact that Randell is self-taught frees him from traditional ways of thinking and adds an unusual style to his work, which he describes as “an ongoing process. I only want each of my engravings to be better than the last.” He thinks up techniques to achieve the effect he is shooting for, best expressed in his near photo-realistic portraits. One technique he employs in achieving this is banknote engraving, although he personally would never use this term to describe his work. Banknote is a combination of closely placed lines and dots to achieve various degrees of shading and threedimensional imagery.

His interest lies not in naming the techniques, but in being able to ask the question “Do you like my work?” and getting a positive answer. “My engraving is an illusion of carving, and an illusion should come out to meet the eye,” he explains. He is most well known in watch circles for his work on Jaeger-LeCoultre’s Reverso model, a watch that possesses a glossy surface that is not entirely easy to engrave; any buffing and scratching is immediately visible and nonretractable. He first makes a series of lightly scribed lines to outline the chosen pattern on the surface, after which he uses deep but narrow lines to cut the rest of the design utilizing only his experience to guide him. “Cutting the lines is the actual art,” he says. “Even if I were to draw the entire design beforehand, I would want to change it along the way anyway. A cut line is always sharper than a line that has been drawn by pencil.”

Engravers specializing in firearm and knife embellishment consider the high-definition images of banknote and photo-realism the most difficult and prestigious part of an engraving. Though Randell certainly spends most of his time on personalizing Reverso models for Jaeger-LeCoultre’s esteemed clients, he remains a freelancer and therefore works for whomever he chooses. And that does include engravings created for objects and companies outside the watch industry.

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